Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A ‘beautiful remnant of antiquity’

Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, is Europe’s only neoclassical Georgian Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Three deacons were ordained in Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, last night [Monday 8 June 2009] by the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Right Revd Michael Burrows.

As a church name, Christ Church usually indicates the principal church or cathedral in a Viking city or town. Waterford, which dates back to at least the year 914, and was named Vadre Fjord (the River of the Father) after the Norse god, Odin. Two neighbouring churches – Christ Church and the neighbouring Saint Olaf’s – are Viking foundations built in the old city in the ninth to eleventh centuries.

Today, Saint Olaf’s is used as a parish hall, although it functioned as a church once again when Christ Church Cathedral was being refurbished and redecorated.

The official dedication of Christ Church – like its counterpart in Dublin – is to the Holy Trinity.

The Diocese of Waterford is now a tiny component of the United Dioceses of Cashel and Ossory, and the boundaries of the diocese are the same as the boundaries of the cathedral parish, which includes Waterford City as well as Killea (Dunmore East), Drumcannon (Tramore) and Dunhill (Annestown).

But in the 13th century, there was a protracted dispute between the Bishop of Waterford and the Bishop of Lismore, marked by mutual recriminations, efforts to annex each other and excommunications. Pope Innocent III and Pope Honorius III intervened on behalf of the Bishop of Lismore in 1215 and again in 1219, but the dispute raged on for a century and a half, and in 1363 a papal decree was issued attempting to unite the two dioceses.

But the merchants and citizens of Waterford retained civic pride in their cathedral, and refused to accept Lismore as the centre of ecclesiastical life in their region. They built and endowed cathedral chapels and chantries, erected memorials and monuments and donated fine vestments and church ware to the cathedral.

Over the centuries, with addition of bits and pieces to the cathedral, Waterford’s leading citizens argued that the edifice was unsafe, although others argued that it was a “beautiful remnant of antiquity.” When church and city decided to rebuild the cathedral in the 18th century, explosives were used to demolish the old cathedral.

The demolition of the old cathedral cost £150; building the new cathedral cost £5,397.

During the demolition, a set of 15th century robes and vestments that were hidden in the 17th century earlier by Bishop Patrick Comerford of Waterford and Lismore were unearthed and presented by the Church of Ireland bishop to his Roman Catholic counterpart and friend.

The present elegant, light-filled and galleried classical-style cathedral is the work of the Waterford architect John Roberts (1714-1796), who was inspired by Christopher Wren’s churches in the City of London. The Waterford-glass chandeliers are a more recent addition.

Last night, as the evening summer sun streamed through the cathedral windows, Christ Church was at its best, and it was wonderful to be there to celebrate the ordination of the Revd Ivan Dungan for Bunclody, the Revd Dr Christine O’Dowd-Smyth for Lismore and the Revd Ruth West for Waterford.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute